When it comes to raising children, there’s a lot of things they have to learn for themselves. You do all you can to make sure they’re ready for major events and experiences, but ultimately, it’s up to them. And one of these such experiences is university, which is a huge undertaking for anyone to handle.

So all you can do in return is advise them, and give them your best advice. If there’s someone in your family who knows absolutely that university is for them, it’s time to do your best to prepare them for standing on their own two feet. Whilst you’re only going to be on the end of the phone whenever they run into some trouble, you can’t jump in to conjure up a solution for them (no matter how much you want to!).

With that in mind, below are some of the biggest questions you should talk through with your child before they head off.

University

Meeting time! (Credit)

Whether They Should Work as Well

Working whilst working towards a degree isn’t something a lot of people would advocate to do. However, sometimes the loan itself isn’t enough for your needs, and getting a part time or side job would pay your way a lot easier. Make sure you talk about this with your kid before they head off by themselves, as a second opinion and some reassurance would really help here.

How to Pay for Their Car

That’s if they’re going to be driving at all, which sometimes is the wrong way to commute when it comes to university towns and navigating campus. On the one hand they could simply purchase a railcard or a bus pass, but on the other hand, if they have the wheels available, they could make a real go of it.

However, it’s not just the petrol they’re going to have to worry about. There’s the insurance as well, and in a town full of young people on nights out, it’s definitely going to come in handy! Head to GoCompare to find student friendly plans and considerations, and get the best quote for the loan your child is on.

How They’re Going to Feed Themselves

Being able to buy food each week to stock your cupboards up with is one thing, another is being able to arrange and cook those foods into an edible format! It’s crazy how many students are living from noodle cup to soup packet because they don’t know the nutrients that are actually available to them!

Go through some recipes right now, make sure your child has the basics down, and even give them a copy of Grandma’s fabled cookbook. Anything is going to help here, and you don’t want your avid student making themself sick over improperly cooked chicken!

Helping your kid to make up their mind about some big decisions is as far as your mentoring should go, but that doesn’t mean you have to keep quiet whenever you see them about to make a mistake!

.Recently I have watched Emmerdale on the television and seen how the character Belle is hearing voices. An old friend used to experience this and is one of the most impressive people I know because he used that experience to go on to help others in a kind and caring way. Today I am sharing Molly’s story where she shares generously and openly about what it feels like when you are hearing voices together with  who has supported her over the years and how she now runs Exhale to help other people with mental health difficulties.

Hearing Voices

 

Please tell us a little about your childhood and teenage years

Whenever I think of my childhood I have very conflicting emotions. I was a very lucky child in many ways. I had a very loving family and extended family, I didn’t go without, I got a good education and I had friends.

My mum and dad divorced when I was four. I spent the weekdays with my mum and my 2 older brothers, and the weekends with my dad. When I was little I was worried about house fires, burglary, black holes, carbon monoxide, cancer, my mum leaving and not coming back. I also had voices in my head who were being really mean to me. It took over my life.
At this stage, my relationship with my mum wasn’t very good. I spent most of my childhood angry at my mum for divorcing my dad and leaving him alone. I was angry at her for not spending time with me and for always working. She would be working instead of picking me up from school like the other mums were, she didn’t come to plays or sports days. So I didn’t speak to her about what was going on in my mind because I was adamant she didn’t care. I was too young to understand that she was depressed and only working all those hours to provide for us.
Despite having friends and family, I didn’t tell anyone about how scared of the voices I was or how bad my anxiety was and so it really did start to eat at me and wear me down.
When I look back at my childhood all I really remember is being scared 24/7 and having a voice in my head (I called him Winston) telling me that I wasn’t ever going to be good enough.
Once I hit thirteen, I think things took a real turn for the worse for me.
I was lying and faking illness to get out of school because I was suffering really badly with paranoia. I really believed that people were talking about me in school and I could always hear them whispering. The voice in my head said it was always about me and it terrified me.
I would fake tonsilitis to get out of school. My attendance at middle school was 24%, shockingly low. I never told anyone because I thought they’d be angry at me for lying about being ill, or my friends would laugh at me or tell me that I was being dramatic. I didn’t eat much, I could go for a week or two just eating flapjack or smoothies because the voice in my head made me worry about throwing it up or not being able to swallow.
I felt very alone as a teenager. Despite having good friends and a close family, I felt so alone. I had panic attacks regularly over my health, I’d pull my hair and pick my skin, I barely slept. I had to sleep with my mum a lot just to get a half decent sleep. I felt like I needed to be defined by what people thought of me so if a guy didn’t think I was pretty or someone called me stupid, it really knocked me back.
I didn’t have an ounce of confidence: my nose was too big, my hair was too thin, my boobs were too small, I wasn’t smart enough, I wasn’t funny enough.
I hated school. I never wanted to be there, but nobody ever found out because I had really learnt how to pretend that everything was okay and that I was ‘normal’.
Many people say that they’d love to go back to being a child or a teenager, but I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t do it for a million pounds.
How have your mental health issues affected your life?
I’ve struggled predominantly with health anxiety, paranoia, panic attacks, depression and general anxiety. This has all really had an impact on my education, my relationships and my self-confidence. It has really impacted who I am and how I talk to people. I also have endometriosis, which increases my anxiety quite substantially.
Who supports you?
My family are very good and both my mum and dad have suffered from their own fair share of mental health issues. My dad has panic attacks and worries about his health while my mum suffered from depression and anxiety, so they know and understand how it is. My mum is my safety net, mother and best friend all in one. We’ve gone from having a very poor relationship to being as thick as thieves. She has sat with me through so many panic attacks, listened to me ramble on as I have worried about yet another cancer, and she always answers the phone even if it’s 2 am in the morning. My mum is my rock.
At school, however, I had Ms Duggan. She was the only person who really knew how bad things were for me at 13. She took me under her wing. If the paranoia was too bad, I’d do my work in her office. She’d listen to me every time. She gave me a safe space to go to. I honestly think Ms Duggan is part of the reason why I am still here.
I also have my boyfriend who I met three years ago. He’s my anti-depressant. He drops anything and everything the moment I start to breathe funny. He knows a panic attack is coming before I do or that I’m anxious before I do. Countless nights he has held me as I shake violently from a panic attack. I can cry, scream, throw up, kick and shake so hard that even he is being thrown around, but he stays calm, holds me and does what he knows helps me. He picks up the phone each time and listens to me even if he should be working. Whenever I’m low and refusing to get out of bed, the first thing he says is, “What do you need?”
He has become my safe place. Now, if I’m anxious, I just need to look at him and it helps because I know whatever I’m anxious/panicking about can’t hurt me if he is there. He’ll moan at me for being so cheesy.
Tell us about moving away from home
I studied journalism at London Metropolitan University. It wasn’t easy. I went to a London university to throw me out of my comfort zone. I knew if I stayed in Stoke then I’d never deal with my mental health because I’d always have my safety nets. So I went to London, where I had absolutely no safety net.
It was hard. There were times when, after I had come home for a visit, my mum would have to force me to get on the train as I cried my eyes out. A large problem was when I got to university I didn’t know who I was. I knew I was someone with no confidence and anxiety, but I didn’t know who I was, what I believed in or who I wanted to be. I was very naive. But, I met a bunch of women who were like no women I’d ever met before.
The girls on my university course were ballsy, fierce, opinionated, strong, independent, loud, demanding career women. If they didn’t agree with something, they’d stand right up and say it. They weren’t afraid to argue their point or say what they thought. They weren’t afraid to tell someone when they were wrong. They stood up for themselves. They weren’t afraid to brag about how awesome they were because they knew they were. They weren’t letting themselves be defined by their money, looks, men or what people thought of them. What defined them was their intelligence, their confidence, their sassiness and this sisterhood they had formed with one another.
I remember thinking that’s the type of person I want to be. I didn’t want to be the anxious and paranoid little girl who was too scared to share her opinion and too frightened to stand up for herself. I wanted to be like these girls.
After time, these girls, who are now award nominated journalists or starting their own businesses and using their voices for the greater good, made me realise that I was a lot more like them than I thought and that I didn’t have to be scared to tell the voice in my head to shut up. They reminded me of how brave and strong and empowered I was.
So university, despite being a challenge, was where I found who I was and that helped me immensely when it came to dealing with my mental health.
Have you ever considered suicide?
Suicide is something I only started to talk about recently.
At 14 I was suicidal. I was so tired of being me. I didn’t want to be anymore because it wasn’t fun and I was hurting so much. So I Googled the nicest way to die. I was sure I was doing the right thing, I thought everyone would be better off without me and that I was a hindrance more than I was benefiting anyone.
I made a plan and I was going through with it. I went all the way with my plan and as I started to go through with it the voice in my head told me, and I remember hearing it clear as day, “If you go through with this, your dad will find you and he will never be able to live with it. Just hold on a little bit longer.” It was a shock. Firstly, because it was right and secondly because the voice that had been tormenting me for so long had saved me.
I realised that if I did that to myself then I’d basically be ending my dad’s life too. I didn’t want to do that. I threw myself to the floor and threw up. I was so sad and scared. Stupidly, I pulled on my PJs and went downstairs to my dad with no intention of telling him. He probably wouldn’t believe me, I thought. I should have told him exactly what I was about to do, what I wanted to do and why I stopped. That would have been the smart thing to do.
Instead, I just sat next to him and watched the rest of the film he was watching. I never said a word to anyone about it until six years later. I held on to it. I really wish I hadn’t because I needed help, but I was too scared and embarrassed to ask for it.
What do you think triggered your mental health issues?
I think my mum and dad divorcing really had an impact on me.
I was a really lonely child and spent a lot of time in my own head. I also didn’t know who I was. I was always wanting to know what my purpose was and I didn’t.
I realised at a young age that I wasn’t a partier, a sporty person, a socializing person, an academic person, I wasn’t musical or political. I didn’t know who I was at all.
But, and I think this goes for a lot of young people who are suffering from their mental health issues, the divorce might have triggered the anxiety but not talking about it or getting help for it was like pouring petrol onto a flame. The more I hid it, the more things helped the fire grow and nothing was being done to put it out before it was too late and it had spread throughout my entire life.
How is your life now?
Things are better now than they have ever been before. I’m not cured and I don’t for one second ever think I will be cured of it, but I am happier than ever.
I still have panic attacks, I’m still anxious, but I’m not embarrassed about it. In fact, I will talk about it to anyone. I don’t care anymore. I have been through and dealt with a lot and I no longer look at that as me being weak. In fact, I think I’m pretty f***ing  strong!
I will talk about mental health and my experiences to anyone because I don’t want another young kid to grow up hiding their struggles and fears to the point where they also see no other option than suicide.
I was lucky that I stopped. Not every person in the same situation does. I don’t want a young person to commit suicide because they’re too scared to talk to their parents or embarrassed that kids at school will take the mick because they’re struggling with their mental health. Not having that fear has helped me grow and get more confident in my own mind.
I started hanging around with people who had a positive impact on me. I started standing up for myself. I cut out all the things that I knew were bad for me (alcohol, caffeine, people) and I started working on things that are good for me. I still have my days where I don’t want to get out of bed or eat. I still call my mum in a panic attack because I think I have cancer. I still shout for my boyfriend when I am having a panic attack, I still can’t get on a bus without freaking out but that’s okay. I’m working on it. I’m working on myself and each day I get a little further.
I’m not an anxious person, I’m a person with anxiety.
Describe your work with Exhale
So I started Exhale to help others who might be or have gone through similar things.
I hate how all these charities are saying, ‘We need to talk about mental health!’ abd  ‘we need to feel comfortable talking about mental health like we do physical health”. Yes, we do, but it’s not just enough to say it. People aren’t going to talk about mental health without being given a comfortable and safe place to do so. For most people, talking about their mental health isn’t going to happen overnight. We need to build up their confidence first and get rid of that sense of loneliness. It’s not a switch that we can easily flick on and off whenever we want to. We’re not going to talk so openly about mental health when there still isn’t a viable environment to do so. That’s like saying, ‘We all need to go plastic free!”. Yes, we do, but nobody will go plastic-free if they aren’t given viable plastic-free options to do so.
Exhale was formed to do that. I run completely free day events dedicated to mental health in all forms. They’re family-friendly and accessible to everyone.
Our slogan is ‘shattering stigma” | building communities’. We encourage people to listen to as many talks as possible. We invite them to talk to one another and make friends. We encourage them to get talking, even if it is to a stranger. At our events, when someone says ‘I understand what you’re going through’ they truly do mean it. Our attendees have got such sad back stories and yet they’re all determined to help other people first. So Exhale brings them together in one space to help one another and it works.
At our last event, one woman said she had never said ‘I am depressed’ to anyone before, but she said it to a stranger that day. She didn’t say anything else, but she didn’t need to. She had taken the step to talking about mental health and that’s fantastic.
Charities, GPs, therapists are helping to shatter the stigma and helping people cope with their mental health, but I truly believe that when all is said and done, the best help will come from the communities who have been through it and are fighting their anxiety, depression, eating disorder, PTSD, OCD, paranoia, BPD, pack attacks, BDD, schizophrenia on a daily basis.
You see it already, there are large communities on Twitter of people who are dealing with all sorts of mental health issues helping one another. One of them might Tweet, “I’m feeling really anxious today, don’t want to get out of bed.” And they’ll get a quick response of, “You can do it. You’ve done it before. I do this when I feel like you do…” It’s amazing. It’s strangers coming together and building support networks.
What would you do if Exhale had funding?
If Exhale had more funding our events would be bigger and we’d move around the country running them. We want to be huge and most of all, we want it to stay free. Nobody. should pay to talk about mental health.
What would you say to a woman who has a spark of an idea but lacks confidence?
 If you believe in something so much, do something about it. We’ve all got the power to make a difference. Whether you do something little or you go all out and do something huge, do something.
What book would you recommend to another woman?
The Chimp Paradox – an amazing book. You learn a lot about the mind with that book.
Huge thanks to Molly for sharing her story so courageously and telling it as it is. This young woman will move mountains one baby step at a time and I look forward to following her journey.
My Random Musings
JakiJellz
The Pramshed

Every day we make decisions that affect our future, but have you ever thought about the impact learning a foreign language could have on your life? When I made the decision to start studying French around three years ago, I never imagined the varied ways it would end up influencing the rest of my life. Arguably, learning any foreign language can have a positive influence on you, but if you’ve picked French, here are some amazing ways it will change your life for the better!

Travelling gets easier

There are nearly 30 countries around the globe where French is spoken as a language. From Europe, to Africa, to the North American continent, you can find French speakers all around the world! Knowing this language will hugely benefit you because it makes travelling and visiting these places a heck of a lot easier. You’ll be able to veer off the standard tourist trails and really explore France, Madagascar, Haiti or a multitude of other amazing nations!

Culture grows closer

There is no better way to truly delve into a culture than by learning the language. Being able to speak French will make it easier for you to foster strong and lasting relationships with native speakers in other countries. Locals always appreciate it when foreigners make a genuine effort to speak their tongue, and you’ll find it a lot easier to make friends, which will lead to a deeper exploration of their culture, too. And by learning the nuances of the French language, you’ll be unlocking the fascinating features of the culture as well.

Career opportunities increase

Did you know that by learning French you’ll actually be giving your career a boost too? Bilingual and multilingual employees are always considered assets to companies, and not just because they’re capable of travelling easily to different countries for business. Learning French will increase your ability to multi-task and problem-solve, both of which are considered very desirable traits by potential employers.

Your brain stays happy

Hobbies are an excellent way to help you unwind from the stress and strain of your work life, and we all need good hobbies to get us through those tough days. Choosing to learn French as a hobby can provide you with some quality fun time, all the while teaching you important skills! By making French your hobby, you’ll be increasing your knowledge and challenging yourself. Taking French lessons and working with native speakers through sites like Listen & Learn, Babbel or even using resources from the BBC can help to give your confidence and self-esteem a serious boost, which translates to, you guessed it, a happier brain!

At the end of the day, learning French is definitely a win-win situation—regardless of whether you’re doing it to further your career or simply for the joy of learning. The French language will continue to influence and impact your life in a positive way long after you’ve stopped taking lessons and moved on to other things. All it takes is one decision to change your life!

 

My Random Musings

I thought I would share some tips on hosting a superhero birthday party partly because I once scored huge Brownie points with my son when we did a Spiderman one. Everyone loves a superhero and I think it often says a lot about a child as to which one they choose. They are also equally suitable for girls and boys so here’s to amazing superhero parties for our children.

Fancy dress

Fancy dress is always fun. If you are doing a superhero party I would suggest leaving it as quite an open theme rather than just going with BatMan or whoever. This puts less pressure on the parents of your guests and that’s important as we all know. There are so many costumes available from supermarkets, fancy dress specialists and of course you can  make your own with a bit of imagination.

Invitations

Invitations on superhero themes are easy to find in stores or if you are a crafty mum you could make your own. If you are super-clever make the invitation into a mask too so that if parents don’t manage to get organised, their child will at least have a mask to wear at the party. On the same subject, if you get some material in relevant colours, you can soon rustle up some make-do capes.

Food and drink

I guess one trick here is to make the drinks relevant to your child’s favourite superhero. As daft as it sounds Halloween ideas can work well here as they often involve vibrant and occasionally gruesome colours. Pinterest is a real ally to parents when it comes to playing with ideas for superhero party refreshments.

I think a superhero party is a really clever way to encourage healthier eating too. You can explain quite subtly that a superhero gets extra powers if they eat good stuff like fruit and vegetables. You could even explain how the cakes have hidden powers if you use alternatives such as beetroot, carrots and courgettes in your baking. Of course it depends how much work you want to do and you may just decide to stock up on party food from the supermarket.

Cake

I always make cakes for my children’s birthdays. I think it is important to do this whether you are a good baker or not. You really can stir love into a cake methinks. It means so much to them when they know you took time out of increasingly busy days to make something yummy just for them.  I was perplexed when my son asked me for a Spiderman cake but the Internet is our friend with YouTube videos giving really good ideas and clear guidance how to create something impressive. With the Spiderman cake it is all about the food colouring and the cocktail stick for the webs.

I hope I have convinced you that superhero parties are such fun and don’t forget that adults can get in on the dressing up action. Now where is my Wonder Woman costume?

Have you hosted a superhero party? How did it go?

 

 

 

My Random Musings

My teenage son does not know what he wants to do and that’s OK. I don’t say that lightly and as  a mum I am concerned but I am starting to wonder if us mums don’t worry too much.

My son is 17 and left school last Summer. He was ill for a lot of the year and his results were not a true reflection of his intelligence at all. There were some great results particularly in mathematics and RS. He has mild dyslexia and I have always said he has dyspraxia so her finds writing tiresome and struggles with presentation skills.

When I had my son,  I sort of assumed he would be academic like myself. I did not  expect him to go to any particular university but I did think he would do GCSES, A-Levels and then a degree. It was the route I took so when it was obvious he was super-intelligent, that’s what I thought would happen. I went to Cambridge and studied Law so maybe that put some undue pressure on him without me even realising it.

I told him he could take a year off after leaving school to work out what he wants to do. This has done him the power of good. He has had time to stop and stare, to play and to relax. I think our schools put far too much pressure on young people these days and then we all throw up our hands in surprise when the country’s children end up with mental health issues.

Then there is the news from friends and family members that their children are doing so well spreading their wings and once again,  I think it must be me. I have cocked up and my children will be the victims. I  can feel envious and even start disliking heartfelt friends as they crow about their kids on social media.

Of course, it all nonsense! Why should my son know what he wants to do just because that would make my life a bit simpler? In many ways, it is great for me as it means he lives at home and I have his amazing company and a bit (a very bit!) of help around the house. If he is not yet ready to fly the nest, that’s OK. After all so many graduates end up coming home to roost in the end anyway unable to afford anywhere to live and saddled with heaps of debt.

Why do we do this thing right from birth that human beings who are individuals in their own right are expected to hit key milestones at specific times? It just leads so many people to think they are failures and that is a bad message for children and adults alike.

A college/university education guarantees nothing. I have never done particularly well once I decided to leave a legal career behind in a hope I could help poorer and more disadvantaged people. Perhaps some of those  people will remember me with affection though and perhaps I made a difference.

My younger brother got less than average results and ended up going to music college as a mature student. He has travelled the word as an opera singer and teacher. This all happened because my parents encouraged my brothers to do amateur dramatics and Ian Wallace happened to visit our Town Hall and hear my brother practising. He told him he had real talent and helped him find a way to give up his job on the local newspaper and to pursue a singing career.

My oldest brother left school with just an 0-Level in woodwork and ended up a merchandiser for Monsoon and a property developer to boot. This is probably because he met his partner.

So often it is not about the exams or the experience but more about who we happen to meet along the way. My Dad was inspired to become a sailor by a relative and walked out of school with no exams whatsoever so he could pursue that dream.

My mother left school with no exams and had the sense to leave factory work behind. Again, when a cook in the nurse’s home at the hospital became ill at Christmas, Mum was in the right place at the right time and took over.

Back to my son. He has suddenly started to show an active interest in discussing what he wants to do. He has no idea really but knows he does not want  to do office work or to work with animals. He would like to work with people. I think he would be amazing in any customer-facing role as he is friendly, kind and polite. He does not drink or do drugs. He has a strong belief in fairness and is proud to say he is a feminist whilst also keen to ensure that the recent focus on women’s rights does not lead to an abuse of men. He knows so much about history and politics and keeps saying he would like to make films.

We can worry so much as parents. What if he never makes any money at all? What if he never finds his way? Not that long ago, the worry was would he ever learn to stay dry and eventually we hit that infamous Nativity Play where he stood in the middle of the stage and showed everyone his “Big Boy Pants” with pride.

The reality if in a few years time, I will probably read this post and wonder why I was concerned at all. I took a different route. Maybe he takes after me. I have made my contribution to the world and so will her.

My teenage boy does not know what he wants to do and that’s OK.

 

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